Aaron McGruder Discusses The Boondocks Being Ahead Of Its Time

Since broadcasting earlier this month, Surviving R. Kelly has many people re-examining their position on the onetime R&B superstar. This month’s six-part documentary on Lifetime details the accusations against the 52-year-old by alleged victims. These include claims of sex with underage girls and graphic accounts of abuse and predatory tactics used against women. The documentary also looks at Kelly’s trials, where he was not found guilty of the crimes including child pornography. The series also compiled interviews with many music journalists and colleagues, who opine on why Kelly has not only avoided conviction in court, but remained a force in music and popular culture.

In Surviving R. Kelly, Chance The Rapper declares regret for collaborating with Kelly in the wake of these charges. Lady Gaga apologized for her sexually-themed collaboration, Nick Cannon, Kelly’s former Jive Records label-mate, also expressed regret for working with Robert, while recalling working on a video set with Kelly as some of his charges surfaced.

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One of the more notable discussions on the topic of Kelly surfaced online earlier this week, as television and film critic Aisha Harris penned a The New York Times piece (“R. Kelly: Why So Many Ignored The Warning Signs”) detailing how two shows tackled R. Kelly’s 2002 child pornography allegations with humor. These satires aired in 2003 and 2005, respectively: Chappelle’s Show spoof music video, “(I Wanna) Pee on You,” and The Boondocks‘ mock-trial episode, “The Trial of R. Kelly.”

This episode featured “Riley” defending R. Kelly, with lines referencing the leaked pornographic film. “I’ve seen that girl! She ain’t little. I’m little.” Harris quotes the material in her NYT essay.

Creator and writer of The Boondocks, Aaron McGruder, recently caught wind of his “The Trial of R. Kelly” episode going viral. This was thanks to multiple tweets from fans who ripped the episode’s final scene, in which the 10-year-old “Huey” yells at the trial’s jury for ignoring Kelly’s allegations for the sake of upholding him as a talented artist and singer.

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“What the hell is wrong with you people?” “Huey” angrily asks the jury, as they dance along to a song played by Kelly’s lawyer to prove his innocence. “… Every famous ni**a that gets arrested is not Nelson Mandela. … We all know the ni**a can sing.” The events end in violence, with both sides of the argument clashing outside the courthouse, and the defendant being found not guilty. The verdict mirrored what would happen in the years that followed.

McGruder spoke with his friend, The Undefeated  Senior Writer Lonnae O’Neal, about the episode’s second-life of cultural relevance, and being back in the conversation.

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“This was regular when I was doing the [comic] strip,” McGruder said on being in headlines again. There’d be “a big, giant news piece happening based on some of the work I had done, or some major controversy that other people were talking about. I had gotten really good at just shutting it all out because you couldn’t possibly get any work done and track all of this trouble you were getting into and who was saying what.”

“That said, it’s been a really, really long time,” he says on “The Trial of R. Kelly” episode. He realizes the viral video is “just a little jarring. I think a smaller version of this happened when Oprah was flirting with a presidential run and suddenly everyone was talking about the “Return Of The King” episode where in the end it says Oprah [is] President in 2020.”

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As for the episode’s recent viral reaction, McGruder says: “R. Kelly was a very slow-moving cultural thing that took place over years and years and years. And there was a lot of time for everyone to really think about it and mull it over and decide how they felt.” He continues, “We live in the era now where we don’t do that anymore. We don’t wait for the judge and jury. We make our decisions quick. It’s a very, very different time. And I think a lot of people are trying to reconcile their older selves and their R. Kelly fandom.”

McGruder says that he has seen the Lifetime series at the time of the interview, and declined to link it to The Boondocks episode. Interestingly enough, “The Trial of R. Kelly” aired in 2005, three years before R. Kelly’s actual child pornography trial in Chicago (whose jury found Kelly not guilty of 14 out of 14 counts of child pornography) had happened. Even more surprising, it was The Boondocks’ second television episode. “I was just trying to make a show that was funny, trying to make a show that stayed on the air,” MacGruder says, adding that the episode took two years between its conception and airing on TV.

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It was reported last year that The Boondocks might soon be coming back in the form of a video game. Not much word has been out about the experience, but it will be an app with “a bizarre political satire that is largely about race and inappropriate for children.” However, he addressed a Boondocks comeback in the interview. O’Neal reports that Aaron suggested that developments are close. What the creator says on record is, “Certainly all the rules have changed. And at the end of the day, I still have to follow the rules. Back in the day, The Boondocks, as crazy as it was, was following the rules. Newspaper rules, Adult Swim rules.”

McGruder is also co-writing a show for Amazon titled Black America which will be a fictional history show where emancipated black Americans receive three Southern states as reparations for slavery.